Princess Noire: The Tumultuous Reign of Nina Simone
Reviewed by Audra Schroeder, Fri., Dec. 4, 2009
Princess Noire: The Tumultuous Reign of Nina Simoneby Nadine Cohodas
Pantheon, 464 pp., $30
As a phrase, Tumultuous Reign has a certain ring, the association with dictators and religious leaders. Nina Simone was caught somewhere in between, rejecting the poverty and racial tension of her childhood in Tryon, N.C., where she was Eunice Waymon, while also struggling to stay black and proud among the musical elite, where her extraordinary talents as a singer and pianist put her. Author Nadine Cohodas doesn't gloss over Simone's more corrosive moments of militancy and depression, but she does cut them with an optimist's scalpel, always trying to see the good in Simone's erratic behavior. Peppered throughout are remembrances from select family and friends, and Cohodas does a fair job drawing out the contrasts of Simone's life, from her classical piano tutelage by a white woman to her Atlantic City jazz indoctrination in the late 1950s, where she became Nina Simone and commenced a decades-long tug-of-war with audiences and colleagues. For all her exhaustive research, Cohodas, who also wrote a bio on Dinah Washington, another black singer who never quite got the credit she deserved, offers little in terms of criticism or humor. And yet, by the end, after it's all sunk in, Nina Simone rules.